§ 'Where a person has made a declaration for the purpose of section 3, 4 and 5 of this Act and has acted in breach of the terms of that declaration he shall be guilty of an offence, punishable on summary conviction to a fine or to imprisonment.'—[Mr. Clifford Forsythe.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.4.55 pm
§ Mr. Speaker
With this, we may consider the following amendments:
No. 23, in schedule 2, page 11, line 11 at end insertand I understand that breach of this declaration is a criminal offence.".No. 24, in schedule 2, page 11, line 22, at end insert' and I understand that breach of this declaration is a criminal offence.'.
§ Mr. Forsythe
This new clause and the two amendments should be generally regarded as coming under the heading of making a breach of the declaration a criminal offence. From the very beginning, we felt that we could support the Bill if it proved to be effective, and so in Committee we suggested certain amendments to try to make it effective. There are two main way,s of doing this. One is that we should have a strong declaration and the other is that there should be a strong penalty—a very effective penalty—for breach of the declaration. We feel that the Bill must be strengthened in this way, otherwise we will be unable to support it even though we supported the Second Reading.
It is pointless our passing legislation through the House if, after the Bill becomes law, it is completely ineffective. Unfortunately, even though hon. Members on the Opposition Benches and elsewhere in the House have impressed upon the Minister that we must change the Bill to make it more effective, our proposals have been ignored.
There may be objections to our making a breach of the declaration a criminal offence. Amendments 23 and 24 mean that that little bit would be attached to the declaration, pointing out that if anyone signed the declaration and then breached it he would be committing a criminal offence, and that would cover the matter.
It is only fair that if the Government introduce legislation, they should enforce it. They should enforce it so that it will be effective, and accepted as effective, so that when candidates sign the declaration they know what they are taking on. Surely it is reasonable that in a democratic state those seeking democratic office should be willing to sign a declaration and, in all honour, suffer the penalty if they break it. True democrats would sign such a declaration under those terms.
Comments have been made about the fact that if the declaration is enforced and it comes before a council which has a majority party, that council, through its majority 1207 party, could try to enforce the declaration against the minority party's wishes. I am sure that such risks exist. That being so, surely it would be better and fairer for it to be a criminal offence to break the declaration. That would mean that other people would make the decision—if necessary the Director of Public Prosecutions—as to whether the declaration had been breached. That would mean that throughout the Province there would be consistency in applying the law. That would be fair to every council, regardless of which party holds the majority.
No one would argue that murder, bombing, extortion and kangaroo courts are not criminal offences. It seems strange that there is great resistance to making it a criminal offence to break a declaration which will be signed by people who are supposed to be against such acts. It is reasonable to expect that if such acts are against the law, the breach of the declaration should also be against the law and should be treated as a criminal offence.
The voters in Northern Ireland, regardless of their views, would wish those standing for election to local councils to be totally opposed to terrorism, murder and everything that the declaration is against. If that is so, we must draft the legislation so that it is effective in that way. It must be signed by all candidates, regardless of their views, and regardless of against whom it is directed. We should expect those who wish to run as democratic candidates for a democratic election to agree with that.
In Committee, I said that for most of the time I was ploughing a lone furrow. The Committee accepted that because it was obvious when we voted that it was true. I am pleased that today I have a few extra players on my team and because of that, and because I spoke for some time in Committee, I shall pass the ball to the rest of the team.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I welcome the opportunity to be allowed to comment upon the clause and to speak to the amendments. Under the procedures of the House, my party had no say in Committee. I have been a Member of this House for 20 years and I have sat on Committees when I was the sole representative of my party. I was disheartened when the Minister said that the Bill was an exercise in democracy in Northern Ireland and that we would no longer be governed by an Order in Council but by a Bill, with everyone having an opportunity to move amendments and to consider the matters involved.
I suggested to the powers in the House that the Bill did not concern anyone in England, Wales or Scotland but concerned only the people of Northern Ireland. I said that it seemed strange that the House should see fit to exclude representatives from my party—which has more votes in Northern Ireland than the Social Democratic and Labour party—and the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder). This is the only opportunity that I have on behalf of my people to say anything about individual clauses. How will legislation such as this stick in Northern Ireland when the representatives of Northern Ireland are not given a chance to debate the matter? As we heard, the Official Unionist party Member ploughed a lonely furrow in Committee and gave the impression that he was the only person in Northern Ireland with grave reservations about the Bill.
1208 I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe). If the Government want to proceed with this flawed and meaningless Bill and a law that cannot meet the intended objectives, on their heads be it. Those in Northern Ireland who know about local government know that the Bill, as drafted, will not tackle head on—as the Government said it would—the members of local councils who publicly advocate the killing and maiming of people in Northern Ireland, and want to be considered as properly elected and democratic representatives.
Many councillors who represent Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland have terrorist records. For example, one councillor who sits on the City of Derry council was convicted in 1970 for blowing up the Guildhall. Now he sits in the Guildhall and administers the city. Another councillor, on the Belfast city council, has had an exclusion order served on him preventing him from coming to Great Britain. So here we have a councillor who is eligible to sit and is going to continue to sit under the terms of this Bill, because the Bill fails to achieve the objective which the Government said that they wanted to achieve, but who cannot enter Great Britain.
It is ludicrous that such people are permitted, under the law, openly to canvass support for violence and murder and to hide behind a veneer of democracy as they seek further to promote the aims of the murderous IRA. Until the Government take this matter in hand and face up to the situation—not simply undertaking this cosmetic exercise in the House today through this Bill—this situation will continue.
Of course, the amazing thing is the Government's double standards. Ministers refuse to meet representatives of Sinn Fein when they, and particularly those elected chairmen of their councils, lead a deputation from their councils. When they come to Stormont they are put into a room and a deputation goes in and sees the Minister, because the Minister refuses to meet them. But those people elected to councils in Northern Ireland whose loved ones have been murdered, maimed and slaughtered by those very same men, when there have been instances in which a council has wanted to pass a vote of condolence after a person has been murdered and Sinn Fein representatives have refused even to get to their feet and take part in that act of condolence, have had to tolerate those representatives. And they are lectured by the Government and told that they should sit down and do business with the Sinn Fein representatives.
The chief of the Royal Ulster Constabulary—and I am not a fan of the chief constable, even though he did marry a distant relative of mine recently—is the white-haired boy of the Northern Ireland Office. He is the man whom they all quote and support, refusing to listen to any legitimate protest against him. He said that Sinn Fein was the murder executive of the IRA. The Government want us to sit down with the murder executive of the IRA. That is an intolerable situation. It is very clear that to all intents and purposes Sinn Fein and the IRA are identical, and the key figures in the two organisations overlap considerably.
The Sinn Fein representatives' purpose in being on local councils is not to advance the welfare of the people they represent but to seek further to undermine and abuse democracy and to further support for the Irish Republican Army. They ought not to be allowed the platform of the council chamber to defend, encourage, condone and incite the murder of members of the security forces. We heard the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. 1209 Campbell-Savours), before you took the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, express his concern about certain Members who were named in the House as security risks. But what about those members of certain councils who have information concerning council employees who are perhaps members of the security forces? That information is available to representatives of Sinn Fein simply because they are members of the local council. So a list is being opened up from which these people can set up a series of murders. Furthermore, the House may know that council members have been murdered through information that certainly could have come from the possession of information in council offices. The IRA will have no hesitation in setting up such employees to be murdered.
We had a ludicrous situation recently concerning Smithfield market, which is owned by the Belfast city council and was blown up by the IRA. The representatives of Sinn Fein on the Belfast city council are members of the markets committee and when the plans for the reconstruction, renovation and rebuilding of the market were prepared each of these councillors received a copy. We talk about Guy Fawkes having the run of the cellars of this House; certainly those men have the run of the cellars of Smithfield market and will know from the plans precisely the best way to blow it up again.
The intolerable situation for Unionist councillors and all those who have any respect for democracy, be they Unionist or Nationalist, has been made much worse because the Government announced what they were going to do and then, sadly, retraced their steps. I regret that the Government had not the guts to go forward on the first statements that were made by the Minister at the Dispatch Box. No doubt some of my hon. Friends on the other side of the House will have remarks to make about that, because in their comments on the situation they drew attention to it. These sad matters that we are considering tonight surely merit an effort by the House to find a way whereby this problem can be dealt with properly. In my opinion, there is only one way to do this and that is by proscribing Sinn Fein, for it is part of the IRA. Unfortunately for us, the Government have dragged their feet and have now produced what is going to be weak and insipid legislation. Long before the council elections—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman was paving the way for his judgment on the merits of the new clause and the associated amendments. He is taking a long time to do that, and I have a duty to safeguard the rules of the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address his remarks more directly to the new clause.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I said at the beginning of this debate that this was the only—[Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker is in the Chair and is quite able to defend himself. I have never known a Speaker who has not been able to rule the House and I have been here for over 20 years. Mr. Deputy Speaker is quite capable of doing his own job without assistance from those on the Labour Front Bench.
I am tracing the background of this new clause and why it is necessary. I am trying to put it into context. I know that what I am saying may upset those on the Labour Front Bench, but they are not sitting in council with people 1210 who have murdered their brothers and sisters. They do not have to do it: it is my people who have to do it and that is why I am speaking in this way.
Recently there was a terrible crime in England when a man ran amok and shot some people. Let us suppose that a political party was brought into existence which supported that murderer and that its members were elected to councils. Would Opposition Members say that members of such a party should be allowed to sit on councils and advocate murder and mayhem in England? Not likely. I was in the House after the Birmingham bombing and I remember the type of speeches made then by Opposition Members. They were just as strong as the speeches that Unionist Members make in similar circumstances when our people are being murdered.
I shall now trace the background to the Bill and show why I think that this new clause is relevant. Six and a half years have passed since the Government mooted that they intended to do something about this. The Bill was produced and those who had made representations were alarmed to discover that the Government intended to ease themselves out of their responsibilities. It is the responsibility of the Government to govern and they should not say to civilians, councillors, or to a council as a whole, "Do the dirty work for us." That is the objection strongly lodged in Northern Ireland against the Bill.
If a councillor advocates murder, violence or the shooting of members of the security forces—as some councillors have done—will the Government or the Law Officers of the Crown move in'? No, because Pilate-like, the Government will wash their hands of any responsibility and an ordinary councillor or a council will have to take action and be responsible for it. The Minister argued that a whole council could take action, but in areas where that could happen the problem does not exist. Thank God, some councils in Northern Ireland do not have Sinn Fein members. Long may that continue. Those councils are in strong Unionist areas or are Nationalist councils with members other than members of Sinn Fein. We are dealing here with areas where councils cannot take such action.
Let us suppose that someone brings a successful prosecution and, under the terms of the Bill, has a Sinn Fein member removed from office. In such a case, what would Sinn Fein do? It would simply murder the person who took the action because, of course, gun law is the order of the day in Northern Ireland and, unfortunately, we have it on both sides of the divide. I was in a home last night from which a husband, a young man of 26, went out one morning, having kissed his wife and his child of nine months, little Emma, goodbye. Last night I saw him return to that home in a box. That exemplifies the situation Al Northern Ireland. The Government must govern. It is not for individuals to take on such responsibility.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the possibility of a council as a body bringing forward a prosecution. Even in the event of such a prosecution being successful, does he have any degree of assurance that the Alliance party in Northern Ireland would not specialise in its usual dirty-dog activity of penalising jointly and severally councillors who take action to uphold the law that the Government are not prepared to uphold?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am sure from the actions of the Alliance party in the past that it would be prepared to do 1211 such dirty work as it did for Sinn Fein. The leader of the Liberal Democrats—if that is the name of his party—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) smiles. He comes to Northern Ireland for a few hours and then disappears but we live in Northern Ireland and saw what happened in Belfast city council about the furtherance of the aims of Sinn Fein by the Alliance party. Sinn Fein did not need to go to court or do any legal work because the Alliance party did it for Sinn Fein.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
I want to put a matter on the record. Everybody will have his own opinion of the Alliance party. I know it and respect it, and the work that its members have done in Northern Ireland towards the kind of reconciliation that the hon. Gentleman has done so much to damage is widely respected. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view, but I should like to put the record straight as far as I am concerned. I do not go to Northern Ireland for a few minutes and then return. I am a northern Irishman and I am proud to say that. I was brought up there, my parents are northern Irish and I have returned to fight the terrorists on the streets of Belfast. The hon. Gentleman's comments about me are inaccurate and unjustifiable.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am delighted to know and I am sure that the people of Northern Ireland will be delighted to know that the right hon. Gentleman is a Northern Ireland man because nobody knew that. I am glad that this will get wide publicity. People in Northern Ireland will be amazed to discover that the right hon. Gentleman is a Northern Ireland man.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I have already permitted the right hon. Gentleman to intervene. He need not wave his finger at me and say, "Ah ha." I say to the right hon. Gentleman that people come to the House by votes. The Alliance party does not come here because it does not get votes. The right hon. Gentleman may seek to pass judgment on any Northern Ireland Member, but we are here because people have voted for us. In elections in which I have taken part the Alliance party forfeited its deposit. The right hon. Gentleman can continue to praise the Alliance party as much as he likes, but if he thinks that his great weight and standing will help it I invite him to the European election—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not persist in that matter. I hope that he will return to the terms of new clause 2.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Liberal Democrats lead people astray and I confess that I was led astray. I shall now turn to a far more important matter, the background to the situation in Northern Ireland and what will happen if the Bill becomes law.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe), in his new clause, emphasises—and it needs to be emphasised—that the breaching of an oath would be an offence punishable on summary conviction by a fine or 1212 imprisonment. That would completely lift this matter from the civil law to the criminal law and that is what needs to be achieved. It is the duty of the Law Officers of the Crown to proceed against offenders. It is not the duty of the ordinary citizen to take such proceedings because by doing so he would put himself at risk. The Government should uphold the law of the land and it is intolerable to ask any ordinary citizen in the Northern Ireland situation to take such a responsibility.
The House may not be aware that the security services themselves cannot defend the populace. Recently, I visited a home three miles from Antrim town where a burning took place at 8 o'clock in the evening. The police were summoned, but as they were unable to attend because of the fear of booby traps or bombs in their way, they arrived the next day at 11 am. The occupants concerned were placed at risk, and their farm buildings were put to the flame.
When the people of a country cannot be guaranteed security by the state, how can one ask them to take upon themselves the responsibilities of the Law Officers of the Crown? That is what the Bill proposes. If such a thing were suggested in England, Scotland or Wales, it would be thrown out. Perhaps it will help the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Democrats to know that the Alliance parties in Northern Ireland support my view. It is not just one part of the community that objects to the Government's proposals, but many factions who otherwise hold opposite views on many political issues affecting Northern Ireland. That is because they know the reality of the situation. They are calling for the Government, too, to face reality.
It is not too late for the Government to alter the Bill. It is not too late for them to weigh up the arguments, rather than put the Bill through the House tonight. Those who will suffer if they do that will be the patient people of Northern Ireland. It is they who will reap the sad results of the seeds that the Government have sown.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Bill bears no resemblance to the substance of the representations made by Northern Ireland councillors to the Minister three years ago? We consider those representations to have been a complete waste of time. That feeling is being echoed because of the way in which the matter is being dealt with in the House. The majority of elected hon. Members affected by the legislation have played a minimal part in it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It would have been more appropriate if many of the remarks that we have heard today had been made on Second Reading rather than when considering new clause 2. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will confine their remarks to new clause 2 and its associated amendments.
§ Rev.Ian Paisley
I take on board the hon. Gentleman's comment, because he has wide experience of local government and speaks with that degree of authority. One council after another told the Government that any new law must be exercised not by councillors, councils or individuals, but by the Law Officers of the Crown. What was the use of those representations being made if the Government respond only by saying no? The Minister must answer that question tonight.
1213 I wonder how the House would feel if a right hon. or hon. Member said, "We are very glad that a police officer was shot dead today. He got his deserts." I know what would be the reaction. The right hon. Member for Yeovil may shake his head, but certain Northern Ireland councillors have said worse than that in open council in Belfast. The interesting point about the Bill is the line of demarcation that it draws between those who serve as representatives in this House and the representatives serving on a council, or an assembly that does not exist in Northern Ireland. The Bill apparently aims at producing two laws, so that there will be two different standards. One does not need to sign anything if one wishes to be a Member of Parliament, but if one wishes to serve on a Northern Ireland council, one must play charades.
The Bill is seriously flawed. Unless the Minister has second thoughts, is prepared to reconsider the representations that were made to him by Northern Ireland councils and by the individuals concerned, and to meet the needs of those who serve on local councils who must face up to the problems involved, then I will be in absolute agreement with the hon. Member for Antrim, South. We cannot bring ourselves to vote for this legislation, for the very heart of it has been torn out. The promises that were made and the objectives that were meant to be achieved have not been observed, and that is the sad situation in which we find ourselves tonight.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
It is important to examine not just the attitudes of the people in my party but the Government's alleged motives for introducing the Bill.
The background to the legislation is that in 1985, a considerable number of people who openly advocated violence were elected to Northern Ireland local district councils. They were successful not just because they appealed to a certain section of the community but because they were able to finance their election campaign to the tune of well over £;100,000 with money provided by certain north African sources. One contrasts Sinn Fein campaigning with funds of more than £100,000 with my own party—the major one in Northern Ireland—entering the same campaign with finance of well below £20,000.
The problem of Sinn Fein advocating violence in the council chamber was recognised by the Minister in his consultative paper published in October 1987. However, it was not just 15 months ago that the Government had the opportunity to consider the matter, but more than four years ago. Nevertheless, the Minister's discussion paper stated:A serious threat to stable local democracy in Northern Ireland has come from Sinn Fein, whose candidates make no secret of their support for 'the armed struggle'—a euphemism for the terrorist crimes, including murder, carried out by the Provisional IRA.In Omagh district council, for example, a Sinn Fein councillor stated that, under certain circumstances, it would be acceptable to him and his party to have members of that council's staff murdered at work. That point is recognised in paragraph 4 of the discussion paper, which states:In the case of Sinn Fein, their councillors support their party's 'military wing' which has been responsible for a number of assassinations of elected representatives, in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain; and prominent Sinn Fein councillors have sought to justify the IRA's terrorist campaign".1214 Not only did the Government identify the problem at that stage, but they recognised that those of us who believe that our democratic institutions should be protected had endeavoured to do something about the fact that the promoters of violence sat in the council chambers with us. They recognised how we, in our efforts to prevent Sinn Fein from undermining the democratic process, had ourselves been brought to court. The law of the land proved inadequate, as it does in many circumstances, to deal with terrorism.
The discussion paper says:the judgements drew attention to the close relationship between the political activities of Sinn Fein and the murders and other violent crimes committed by the IRA to overthrow democratic government in Northern Ireland.That is the crux of the matter. We are dealing not with individual sensitivities but with a co-ordinated, well-financed attempt by people who support terror for political reasons to undermine the very democratic structures on which we depend.
When the Government brought out their discussion paper we were not altogether happy with some of the measures that it suggested, but we decided as a political party that we would respond positively. Not only did we respond positively, but we did so in as mild a way as we believed possible, because we did not wish to make it difficult for the Government to bring forward the kind of legislation that would be necessary to deal with those who used violence for political ends.
When we submitted our comments, we nevertheless warned the Government that they should not wrongly assume that our submission would be a basis for debate and negotiation. We suggested that it was the least that we could accept in terms of legislation. One point that we made very strongly was that we did not want the Government to be seen to rely, or be suspected of relying, on Unionist elected representatives to do the job of excluding men of violence from the council chamber. We knew that that would be to the disadvantage of both the Government and those of us who were councillors.
We also saw a great difficulty if prosecutions for breach of declaration were brought by Unionists, because such prosecutions would be misinterpreted as Unionists being petty and trying to deny a franchise to a certain section of the community. On the other hand, we recognised that. if Unionists did not bring forward prosecutions, the men of violence would deem them to be afraid to face a by-election.
Our real fear, however, is that anyone—a councillor or a Member—who is obliged to bring a prosecution against a Sinn Fein councillor for advocating violence will himself become a victim of the IRA. Not only those in the council chambers but those outside wait for instructions with their guns at the ready.
We were not the only people to recognise the difficulties that would arise if it were left to individuals to bring prosecutions. The Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights said in an advisory paper to the Government:the Government should mark the seriousness with which it views certain statements and actions of councillors and others by placing them more clearly in the context of criminal law".That committee was set up by the Government to advise them, and I wonder how the Minister can reject such professional advice.
1215 Let me add that I do not always agree with what the committee says. In this instance, however, I believe that, like the majority of people in Northern Ireland, it recognises that the purpose of the legislation is to deal not with individual problems, but with the whole problem of whether democracy is to be given a chance in the district councils after May 1989.
The committee also recognised that the sort of legislation that is before us could be to the advantage of the IRA. After signing the declaration, members of Sinn Fein may well behave properly for a considerable length of time and then, at an opportune moment, choose to infringe the declaration and so create a crisis that would benefit the Provisional IRA. The committee says:it provides the elected extremist with the opportunity at a time of his own choosing, probably when party fortunes are at a low ebb, to boost electoral support by claiming that the declaration is a symbol of oppression".The standing advisory committee was considering a situation in which I or a fellow councillor was forced to bring a member of Sinn Fein to court for a breach of the declaration when it suited Sinn Fein to be brought to court so that the Sinn Fein member could point a finger at me and state, "Look, there is a Unionist who is denying the minority community its elected right."
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)
As the hon. Gentleman knows, SACHR is against any form of declaration. Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that he is against any form of declaration, however that may be proposed?
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am certainly not. If the Minister had been listening to me, he would have heard me say that I do not always agree with SACHR. However, I said that, on this point, it has put forward a cogent and reasonable argument.
Now that the Minister has raised the issue of the declaration, it is incumbent on me to sidetrack my comments for a moment and reply to him. The Minister must surely recognise that the declaration is a weakness. A declaration that does not prevent an advocate of violence being elected to a council, but which places the onus on councillors or others to have him disqualified after he is elected, is nonsense. My party said that there should be a repudiation, not of violence as such, but of paramilitary organisations proscribed under the emergency provisions legislation. That would have created a dilemma, if not a total obstruction, for men of violence who want to be elected. It would have been very difficult for someone prior to election to repudiate Provisional Sinn Fein and then hope to go forward on a platform supporting Provisional Sinn Fein. That kind of approach would have made more sense than the Minister's proposal.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Is not the great weakness of the declaration the time that it comes into effect? During the election someone can say anything. Someone can say, "Shoot every policeman." I received some literature, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) must have received a copy as well, from Sinn Fein yesterday in which Gerry Adams wished his opponents a bloody new year. That kind of language 1216 can be used during the election, but the declaration only has power over someone making such statements after that person has been elected.
§ Mr. Maginnis
The hon. Gentleman is right. Unfortunately, if I read the selected amendments correctly, we will not have the opportunity to consider that specific point. That is a weakness in this debate.
The Minister has made a grave mistake about enforcement. In his discussion paper he implies that, while the enforcement of the declaration could occur in the criminal or the civil courts, it would be more effective through the criminal process. I want to draw the attention of the House to the points that my party made about enforcement. In our submission to the Minister we said:Any breach of the Declaration must be deemed a criminal offence. Let there be no equivocation on this issue. The proposed legislation is neither for the convenience nor the protection of an individual. It should be portrayed as neither a salve for Unionist sensitivities bruised by 17 long years of terrorism nor as a weapon to be placed in the hands of Unionists.The one thing that worries Unionists about the way in which the legislation is to be enforced is that it will constantly be interpreted as a weapon placed in the hands of Unionists by the Government and it will cause the greatest chaos and animosity in council chambers where at the moment peace and constructive work is proceeding.
Our submission continued:Rather, the Declaration is urgently required in order to protect and maintain those electoral processes upon which our democratic system of Government is founded. It is the primary duty of Government to sustain those processes for the benefit of the electorate.We believe that no self-respecting Government could contemplate an abdication of that responsibility. I hope that the Minister is taking me seriously.
However, we are facing a dilemma. Do we vote against this legislation on Third Reading because it is inadequate and will make a mockery of the Government?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We are not debating Third Reading yet. The hon. Gentleman should wait for that debate before advising the House of his position.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not dream of digressing into that or other areas.
The new clause is crucial to the Bill. If we do not have a common-sense approach to it, and if we cannot convince the House of the necessity to accept it and so stop the Government falling into the trap that they have set themselves and also prevent those of us who must serve as elected councillors from having to endure the ridicule that would be a consequence of failing to pass the new clause, the Bill will not have the attributes that would allow us to support it on Third Reading. I urge every hon. Member to vote for the amendments so that we can have some hope of carrying necessary legislation which will sustain the democratic process.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. William Ross (Londondery, East)
Nothing is worse than a law that does not fulfil its stated objective. We are discussing just such a Bill which undoubtedly will become law and eventually prove ineffective. As usual, the Government will then blame the people of Northern Ireland rather than their own actions for its failure to deliver.
1217 This group of amendments is intended to make the offence criminal. The Government are dealing with a terrorist conspiracy which combines the openly violent actions of the IRA with the activities of its political mouthpiece, the Sinn Fein. It may well be that in the world at large or in the United Kingdom, some folk still regard those two organisations as separate and distinct, two manifestations of Irish republicanism or Irish nationalism. Those people are making a very grave error of judgment. In Northern Ireland, those two organisations are seen as a single seamless web; they act in concert under the same instructions from the same source. They have an army command. The IRA is a military organisation which runs on orders from the top. Decisions are taken from the top in the same way as the Conservative party take its orders from 10 Downing street and carries them through for good or for ill. The IRA and Sinn Fein organisation has always worked in that way. That is why all Sinn Fein councillors are members of the IRA.
In the past, Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office have related to the House the statistics of convictions of those who serve as Sinn Fein councillors. It is evident from those convictions that all those councillors who had been convicted were active, ruthless members of that terrorist organisation. Those who know the situation in Northern Ireland know perfectly well that all the other Sinn Fein councillors are people whom the IRA can trust or they would not have been chosen. The IRA can trust them, because, until now, they have carried out the orders which the army council of the IRA issued to them and which they obeyed.
The House is treating this matter far too lightly. Looking around the Chamber, I see rather less than a dozen Members of the House of Commons which is one of the oldest democratic institutions in the world. Hon. Members are failing in their duty to turn up and listen to a debate on how an attack on the democratic structures of this country has evolved and has reached the stage were the democratic structure itself is being used by a terrorist organisation to undermine and destroy the will of the majority. It is very sad that Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom do not take a far greater interest in this matter. If they did, their understanding of the situation would increase rapidly and there would be much more willingness to listen to the Unionist case which is so soundly based.
The Government are trying to treat one aspect of the activities of the IRA and Sinn Fein as a civil matter when it is simply part and parcel of the IRA strategy. The IRA violence is half that strategy, which set off a bomb in Londonderry last night. Not for the first time, the action was aimed at the legal structure because the bomb was placed in front of the court house. The Sinn Fein councillors who sit and take notes of what Unionist councillors say and carry that information out are the other half of that strategy. It represents the Armalite in one hand and the ballot paper in the other in action and the Government have not seen fit to treat it with the seriousness or the legislative precision that would defeat the purposes of the organisation which the matter deserves and demands.
The Minister was busily shaking his head on a number of occasions during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). No matter what the Minister thinks, I can tell him quite bluntly that Sinn Fein councillors and Sinn Fein 1218 candidates could not lightly or easily repudiate or disavow the IRA or the PIRA—to be precise, we are discussing the Provisional IRA, and not the official IRA. No Sinn Fein council candidate and no Sinn Fein candidate for election to this House could easily say, "I repudiate my military masters." They could not do that. The Minister, the Prime Minister, the Government and the Conservative party have not accepted that reality. They simply refuse to listen to those who live in Ulster, have grown up among such people and know how they think and how they act, as I do. The Northern Ireland Office and the Government, in refusing to accept the amendments, are demonstrating once more the double thinking, the double standards and the parallel attitudes that are so often evident in their approach to Northern Ireland.
As has already been pointed out, Ministers will not meet the Sinn Fein members of any council. Two Sinn Fein councillors were elected out of the five representatives of my local area, so no one can tell me that I do not know about Sinn Fein republicanism. Ministers will only meet them at arm's length through their officials. The same Ministers who refuse to make this a criminal offence will come to the House next Tuesday to defend their attitude in another Bill applying to Northern Ireland, clause 5(7) of which treats what is in effect contempt of court as a criminal offence.
If Ministers think that we do not notice their double standards and double think, let them take note that we understand what they are doing. It may well be that Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office are so blind that they do not realise what they are doing and they do not understand that they are not presenting a cohesive policy against murder and terrorism in Northern Ireland. But we see it and we understand it. The IRA understands it and believes that lack of decision and cohesiveness is a clear sign that the Government will some day surrender. If we are ever to convince the political mouthpieces of the IRA that they will be defeated, the Government had better produce a cohesive policy.
The Government's approach is wrong. They know that it is wrong. Paragraph 15 of the Government's consultation paper referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone states:Enforcement of a declaration could either be through the criminal or the civil courts. Breach of a declaration could be made a criminal offence.Paragraph 16 stated, "alternatively"—the Government always need to have at least two doors open and if those do not suit them they will invent a third. It further says that the enforcement procedures might operate through the civil courts.
What force moved the Government to adopt the second option? Which argument persuaded them to take a road that they must know—as we know—in our heart of hearts will prove completely ineffective?
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Gentleman correctly anticipates what I was about to say. Pressure was put on the Government by another source. The Government are so weak and so lacking in understanding that they were incapable of understanding the result they chose. The pressure resulted from the Anglo-Irish Agreement and came from Dublin.
We have had the softly-softly approach for 20 years —20 years of murder, arson, violence, defeat and retreat. 1219 Within the next month, this Government will have been in power for 10 years—10 years under the rule of the party of law and order. If this is the best that they can do, the sooner the Northern Ireland Office is cleared out and replaced by people who mean what they say, the better for us all. They have failed to deliver peace, to deliver order on the streets, to defeat the IRA and to deliver the economy. Failures have no place in the esteem of Unionist Members.
§ Mr. Ashdown
I apologise for the fact that from time to time I might have to leave the Chamber.
I rise for the second time to correct the inaccuracies of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he did not know—and by the way in which he said it, it appeared that the world did not know—that I am an Irishman and proud to be so. The fact that I was brought up in Ireland has appeared many times in the Belfast Telegraph and the Newsletter. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman does not read those newspapers to bring himself up to date with Irish affairs.
A further incorrect statement issued from the mouth of the hon. Member for Antrim, North about the Alliance party in Northern Ireland. He misled the House into believing that it supported new clause 2. I make it perfectly clear that it does not. No doubt this is not the first occasion on which the House has had cause to doubt what the hon. Gentleman says or whether he who claims to be an authority on Northern Irish matters has nevertheless misled the House—perhaps inadvertently—on important issues.
I am delighted to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Antrim, North and the overheated comments made elsewhere because it shows that the Alliance party is having some effect in Northern Ireland. In the few years that it has been in existence, it has done more for peace and reconciliation than has the hon. Member for Antrim, North throughout the long and bitter years of his political career. I say that with all the passion of an Irishman who knows what he is talking about.
The record should be clear about the Alliance party's attitude to new clause 2. In evidence that it submitted, it said:We are concerned that making the declaration a criminal offence will lead to unnecessary problems regarding proof and evidence. Would, for instance, a refusal to stand as a mark of respect to someone murdered by terrorists be grounds for disqualification? While it may be reprehensible, we feel it would not be sufficiently serious on its own merits to justify a criminal prosecution.
New clause 2 would create and give publicity to the people to whom we are trying to deny it. The proposals of the hon. Member for Antrim, North, like so much else that he proposes, would not add to the cause of peace but would precipitate and foment trouble.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
With your customary generosity, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have allowed a wide-ranging debate on new clause 2. I will keep my brief remarks in order, but at times I may stretch your generosity of spirit when replying to one or two of the points that have been made.
Every debate on Northern Ireland arouses deep feelings and emotions. Those feelings and emotions were 1220 illustrated by the speeches of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and those of hon. Members of the Official Ulster Unionist party.
I share some of the feelings of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) about the hon. Member for Antrim, North. The hon. Gentleman is a symptom and cause of the problems of Northern Ireland. Every time he speaks in the House he does nothing to advance the causes of consensus but pours petrol on its problems, inflaming passions in the troubled Province. I find it difficult to take a lecture from him about violence, especially given his ambiguity over the use of it in the past and presumably in the future.
I shall refer briefly to an article that appeared in the Irish News on 11 November 1986. I understand that the hon. Member for Antrim, North was present at the launch of what was called Ulster Resistance. At the meeting, the hon. Gentleman is alleged to have read a statement of intent by the leadership of Ulster Resistance which said that itresolved to band together to take whatever steps are necessary to destroy the Agreement and the ongoing republican conspiracy.A report states that the hon. Gentleman said that the new movement would mobilisethe men of Ulster into an organised and disciplined force and would embark on a recruitment of men willing and prepared to take direction as and when required. Such action will be strictly disciplined, calculated and controlled.To rapturous applause"—presumably the hon. Gentleman is accustomed to such a reception in the circles in which he moves—Mr. Paisley said he was prepared to give the movement 'his undivided support' and"—the next words should be noted—'whatever political cover it needed' …Mr. Paisley said that he was aware of the seriousness of the course of action he was embarking on, but said it was necessary if they were to destroy the Agreement. To prolonged applause he warned that the new force was not a 'bluff'.To my simple mind, that would appear to be incitement to the use of violence and to effect political ends in the north of Ireland.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
On the same subject, which is related to the amendment, does my hon. Friend remember the picture and the articles that appeared in the press some years ago when the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) stood on a well-known hillside in Northern Ireland with a group of men in serried ranks who were holding aloft their gun licences? The hon. Gentleman was clearly acknowledged as their leader. I cannot imagine that such actions will help the people of Northern Ireland, and it amazes me that the hon. Gentleman should do them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention has nothing to do with declarations about standing for local government. We must get back to the new clause.
§ Mr. Marshall
It is certainly my intention to get back to the new clause, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I gave those quotations to illustrate the hon. Gentleman's ambiguity on the use of force. It ill behoves the hon. Gentleman to lecture the House on its attitude towards either the Government's policies or the
1221 Opposition's policies on the north of Ireland, when many of his statements and intentions appear to exacerbate an already serious situation in that troubled Province.
Hon. Members from the Province are urging the Government to accept responsibility for the implementation of legislation. Unfortunately, that does not form part of the new clause, but it has been the main thrust of their arguments. As Official Unionist Members know, Labour Members share their desire to make the Government responsible for the implementation of the legislation. If hon. Members from the north of Ireland are so intent on achieving that objective, I suggest that they support amendment No. 8.
The criminalisation that new clause 2 would introduce will not achieve those ends. I agree with the right hon. Member for Yeovil that it will make worse an already desperate situation in the north of Ireland. It will lead to further intimidation of witnesses and to people being extremely reluctant to come forward and give evidence in criminal cases. For that and the other reasons that I have stated, if there is a Division we shall support the Government and oppose the new clause.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Some of my hon. Friends have remarked on the comparatively small attendance at the debate. We do not have far to look for the cause of such low attendance. With all its defects, the House of Commons has a degree of collective perception. It can perceive occasions when it is doing a real job of work—fortunately, that is most of the time—and it can also perceive when it is acting out a charade. Hon. Members both present and absent are aware that the latter is the case tonight. Hon. Members would be required to participate in a charade in which they and the country do not believe. The few representatives from the press—the news industry—who are present will confirm that statement.
There is hope on the horizon. The Under-Secretary has it in his power to bring purpose to the debate and the legislation.
To do him credit, shortly after the local government elections in the spring of 1985, the Under-Secretary responsible for local government engaged in the most exhaustive discussions and consultations with practically every legitimate group of councillors in Northern Ireland. He had submitted to him reasonable and workable proposals to do what he wanted to do, which was to remedy the hideous situation that had resulted from the local government elections which had shocked hon. Members on both sides of the House. They could not understand how people in their right minds could vote for Sinn Fein candidates who openly and unreservedly supported and advocated the policy of the ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other, and who had no hesitation in condoning acts of violence on occasions when it suited them. Unfortunately, that was on a good many occasions.
Faced with what they recognised as a serious and grave problem, Ministers made one correct decision. They resolved that, as Ministers of the Crown, they would not meet or consort with Sinn Fein elected representatives. I agree with that decision. However, they did not follow it up. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends are serving councillors. The Government did not absolve them from the requirement to sit side by side in council chambers with 1222 Sinn Fein councillors and to listen to abuse dished out by those councillors to members and relatives of fallen members of the security forces.
If an individual councillor is now to take any action—this is the problem with which we are faced—he will be intimidated first and later shot, if not by some Sinn Fein councillors doubling up as members of the IRA, by their fellow travellers who are not far removed from them.
I hope that my next point will be returned to in debates on subsequent amendments. I refer to a council's difficulty in taking action and initiating a prosecution if that council is to be at the mercy of the public auditors, and its members severally and individually surcharged. As things stand, there does not appear to be any way in which members of a council of any party can acquire cast-iron legal advice and guidance on what may or may not subject them to surcharges and penalties. I hope that that will be resolved.
After three and a half years of reflecting on all the advice—I am sure that he did it with the best intent and that he tried to find a solution—the Minister must be generous and realistic and admit that he has not found the remedy for the problem. Sinn Fein will sign the declaration. It has already announced that it will do so. I imagine that, at its conference, along with its fellow travellers, no doubt sitting with their guns at the ready, it will reinforce and clarify its determination to sign the declaration. It is equally certain that Sinn Fein will proceed to breach the declaration. Unfortunately, no effective action can or will be taken. We might as well face up to that, because it will be the reality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) stated that we had sought to avoid tendering our advice to the Minister. The subject of our new clause was one element in the advice that we gave him in the early days. My hon. Friend said that we had done our best to avoid making the Minister's task more difficult and that, for that reason, we put forward what we and the House would consider to be reasonable and workable proposals. We take the same attitude tonight.
New clause 2 is designed to carry forward that work. It offers the Minister yet another opportunity to make the Bill more effective. I hope that he will accept the new clause or, if he is not inclined to do that, that he will undertake to introduce something similar in another place.
§ Mr. Needham
This has been an excellent Second Reading debate and an even better Third Reading debate, and it has covered most of the amendments down for consideration. I shall try to keep as close as I can to the new clause and be as quick as I can.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and several of their hon. Friends called for proscription. The new clause is not about proscription, but even if there were proscription in Northern Ireland it would not do away with the need for this legislation.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
If the Minister were asking me now whether I advocated proscription, I would say yes. But I am seeking not to embarrass the Minister by asking for something that might embarrass him. That was why I did not suggest or request proscription. I would prefer to settle for new clause 2.
§ Mr. Needham
The right hon. Gentleman does not embarrass me in either event. Even if there were proscription, which the right hon. Gentleman now says he would call for, which I think was accepted on Second Reading, there would still have to be a Bill of this nature to ensure that those who stand under different colours and different guises were caught if they were to advocate terrorism or support violence in further elections. The hon. Member for Antrim, North, in his tour around the glens, said nothing against the need for the Bill.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) said that the wording, to which he particularly referred, would not be effective because it avoided the words that had been put forward by his hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) in, as he said, a helpful document calling for repudiation. The hon. Gentleman criticised the Government for their failure to introduce effective legislation in the past. If there is to be legislation, the House would want it to be effective. There could be nothing worse than to introduce legislation which would not work in practice.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East said that the use of the word repudiate would make it much harder for the followers of terrorism, from wherever they may come, to sign such a declaration. I do not understand why, because, if they were so minded, I suspect that they could find whatever arguments they so wished to get round it.
If the word repudiate formed part of the declaration, it would apply only at the time that a candidate signed the declaration. What form would the repudiation take? There is nothing in the declaration, nothing suggested in any amendment here or in Committee, to say how representatives would be asked to handle repudiation. Would they be asked to repeat their repudiation? Would there be certain propositions to which they would be asked to assent to show that they had fulfilled their repudiation? The whole point of the declaration is that it is concerned with deeds and words, not with a form of prior approval for terrorism which would be unenforceable in the courts.
§ Mr. Needham
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute. I want to finish this point. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman for quite a long time this afternoon.
I am not a lawyer, but when bringing forward legislation it is sensible to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of using political words which sound wonderful on the lips of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East, but mean nothing when it comes to making the legislation effective in the courts of Northern Ireland. Nothing that has been said today by the hon. Member for Londonderry, East, the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) in Committee, or the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone would in any way lead me, the Government or anybody else listening to believe that the word repudiate would be effective or achieve its end within the courts.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I understand the Minister's embarrassment, because in putting forward his argument against the word repudiate he has defeated his argument for any sort 1224 of declaration. However, let me help him by giving him the proper legal opinion about the word repudiate. A learned senior counsel states:I am quite clear that the word repudiation in any other situation will be construed by the courts according to its 'ordinary and natural meaning'. My authority for that is the extremely important House of Lords case Brutus v. Cozens (1973) AC 854 that said the meaning of an ordinary word of the English language in a statute is not a question of law but of fact. Accordingly a normal dictionary meaning will be given which according to the Oxford Dictionary means … disown, disavow, reject, refuse dealing with, refuse to recognise'. Accordingly it seems that the word repudiated is appropriate for the declaration in the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Bill.That is the opinion of a senior counsel.
§ Mr. Needham
With respect, the hon. Gentleman cannot have paid attention to the second part of what I was saying. He may be right about the word repudiate if, as the hon. Member for Londonderry, East suggested, its use meant that the declaration was not signed. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone appears not to be interested in the argument.
Repudiation applies to a particular time and it faces backwards. What actions would have to be taken thereafter once a councillor was elected which would prove whether that repudiation had continued? There is nothing to suggest that words or deeds are required within the declaration and the Government have been advised that the use of the word repudiate would, on its own, be ineffective. That is the point to which I want to come.
I have listened to hon. Members carefully. We are talking here about the effectiveness of the declaration. Will it or will it not work? Is there any reason to make the failure to sign it a crime or a civil offence? If it is to be a crime, is it more or less likely to be effective? I am not impugning, and have not at any time impugned, the integrity of Opposition Members about their consideration and concern on the effectiveness of the declaration. Unfortunately, they have not taken the same line with me. Therefore, the question that I want to ask is why Opposition Members seek to make it a crime when there are strong arguments, in principle and in practice, against doing so.
§ Mr. Needham
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman as I have already done so twice.
First, I am not sure that fines and imprisonment are necessarily the appropriate sanctions for the breach of a declaration. Breaching a declaration is not a criminal act. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has pointed out during our debates the amount of criminal legislation that exists for acts and deeds. A breach of the declaration is not a criminal act. If expressions of support are used by councillors or assembly members, those people can be removed from office. Disqualification is the right penalty for people who, in council chambers or in the assembly, support acts of violence or terrorism.
Secondly, existing electoral law is enforced largely by civil means through election petitions. That is a much more appropriate analogue than using the criminal law, which will not have the effect that hon. Members seem to think. It is not right for the prosecuting authorities to bring actions for breach of the terms of the declaration. As the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said, 1225 there could be no quicker way to create martyrs and give a propaganda advantage to the supporters of violence than to have actions brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
§ Mr. Needham
I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's point as to whether it should be the DPP or the Attorney-General when we come to the next group of amendments.
The standard of proof, which is different in the civil and criminal laws, would mean that criminal cases required evidence of reasonable doubt to be successful, whereas in civil cases only the balance of probability needs to be proved. These amendments would not, as the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley seems to believe, make the declaration easier to enforce or more effective. It would have exactly the opposite effect. Hon. Members have argued that the Bill will not work because it depends on who brings the action, but, in the next breath, they propose an amendment that makes it more difficult to bring an action and obtain a conviction. What do hon. Members want? Do they understand the difficulties of introducing criminal, rather than civil, law?
If, unfortunately, these amendments were incorporated in the Bill, the people of Northern Ireland would find that the legislation was less effective. When they studied the evidence, they would see where the blame for that lay. On that basis, I ask the House to reject the amendments.
§ Mr. Flannery
I want to take up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). He suggested that we agreed with the Government. That may be so in respect of this amendment, but, generally speaking, I profoundly disagree with the Government, as I do with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), because they are all wrong. I do not condemn my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not condemn me, but may I make it clear that I said that, if a Division were called on this group of amendments, we would vote with the Government.
§ Mr. Flannery
I assumed that, although I am not sure about the form of words used by my hon. Friend.
This debate was inevitable. It is not often that I act as a referee. My hon. Friend and I do not live in Northern Ireland, whereas the hon. Members to whom I have referred do. They are subjected to terrible fears and horrors that we do not experience, although we receive many threats through the post. I know how they feel and appreciate that there is a historic background to the issue.
When this Bill, to which we are totally opposed, was introduced, it was clear that it represented an intensification of the struggle and would therefore cause all kinds of upsets. There is already enough trouble without Bills that intensify the struggle.
New clause 2 states:Where a person has made a declaration for the purposes of section 3, 4 and 5 of this Act and has acted in breach of the terms of that declaration, he shall be guilty of an offence, punishable on summary conviction to a fine or to imprisonment.
1226 Section 21 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 prohibited the requirement of oaths, undertakings or declarations as a condition of appointment or of service on public bodies in Northern Ireland. That provision was introduced because Ireland was oath-ridden. The Bill is hagridden with this kind of thing. The Government must be dreaming if they believe that someone who wants to be a Sinn Fein councilor—the Bill concentrates on Sinn Fein—will not take an oath to be a councillor. Many will take the oath, but it lays itself open to all kinds of abuse. If such a person cannot be a councillor, even though he might be opposed to violence, it means that a certain section of the electorate in Northern Ireland cannot vote for that kind of thinking. Eleven per cent. of the vote is Sinn Fein.
There are no hon. Ladies present. It is disgraceful that we do not have sufficient women in this place, but the Establishment is not bothered about having women in here.
Hon. Members will disagree with what I am saying because they are so desperate to find a solution that they keep thinking up quick solutions to the problem. They did not put forward this amendment in Committee but have brought it forward here.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe
I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that this amendment was tabled in Committee.
§ Mr. Flannery
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he ploughed a lone furrow. I apologise, and pay tribute to him for putting his view so ably.
As soon as this appalling Bill came into existence, it became inevitable that such discussions would take place without a solution being found. The Government will accept no amendments tonight. Hon. Members feel the frustration that we feel, although not as desperately. No matter how long the debate lasts, the Government will have their Bill; they will have their way. [Interruption.] Conservative Members have been drafted in, but they know little or nothing about Northern Ireland. They are all saying, "Hear, hear". That is the difficulty we face with a load of ignoramuses who do not understand the problem. In spite of all the cheering and counter-cheering, I prophesy that there will be no changes in the Bill. We will put it on record that it is a bad, squalid little Bill which will deepen the problems of Northern Ireland by forcing people to swear an oath in which they do not believe. The new clause is almost as silly as the Bill, and would get us nowhere. It is born of an honest desperation, but I oppose it for the reasons I have given.
The debate has roved over the whole gamut of Northern Ireland. That is a pity. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) was going to speak, but he felt that the debate had been so broad and so removed from the new clause that it would be difficult for him to say what he wanted. I have tried to speak to the new clause. I am against it, as I am against the Bill.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
I have been provoked into intervening in the debate by what I have heard. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) is a regular attender at Northern Ireland debates and always takes part in them. As he has pointed out, suddenly from nowhere quite a few hon. Members have been brought in by the Government Whips to show that the Government have some support for the measure.
The Bill has been spawned by the Government's desire to be seen to be doing something in Northern Ireland—not 1227 too much but just enough to impress the people. The Bill will not frighten the IRA. It is meant to impress the honest, decent, law-abiding people of Northern Ireland and to make them believe that the Conservative Government are determined to defeat the IRA and its political spokesmen. I do not wish to be a party to that deception of the decent people of Northern Ireland who have suffered for 20 years at the hands of evil terrorists.
The families of those who have been murdered deserve the sympathy of the whole community, whether the victim was a Protestant or a Roman Catholic. The murderers are contemptible and deserve to be punished with the full force of law and order. I regret that after 20 years we still suffer from terrorism to an extent which would not be tolerated in this part of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] It shows the utter disregard of the Conservative party for the people of Northern Ireland that Conservative Members talk among themselves when we are attempting to debate a serious matter affecting Northern Ireland. I hope it is brought to the attention of everyone in the Province that during the debate there have been at most only about half a dozen Conservative and Labour Members present. Only recently has the pack been brought in to show some support for the Government and, I suppose, to disconcert an hon. Member from Northern Ireland. I resent it. I think that I speak for the people of Northern Ireland when I say that they would resent it and that they will take note of it.
What is the new clause about? All that my hon. Friends seek to do is to take the initiation of legal proceedings out of the hands of individuals and place it in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The trend over the last 10 or 20 years in Northern Ireland has been to remove political influence from prosecutions. My hon. Friends wish to remove the burden from the individual elector or councillor and place it in the impartial hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Bill will not achieve anything. It is an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the Ulster people. Let my hon. Friends and I, as Unionists, put it on the record that we wish the onus of prosecution to be placed in the hands of an impartial person—the Director of Public Prosecutions. What would happen under the proposal put forward by the Government? An elector would have to decide whether to take legal proceedings. The opinion of another lawyer might contradict the opinion of his lawyer. The elector will have to take the risk of going to court. That will cost money. Will the Government provide financial aid to an elector who wishes to initiate proceedings under the Bill?
The elector may fail in court and may have to bear the cost of the proceedings. Even if he succeeds, the person who is disbarred may decide to appeal. Who will pay the heavy costs of all the legal proceedings which may arise from the Government's proposal?
§ Mr. William Ross
Does the hon. Gentleman also appreciate that many Sinn Fein councillors are people of very little means and that the chance of ever recovering costs, should costs be awarded against them, is minimal?
§ Mr. Kilfedder
Yes; I agree with my hon. Friend.
This is a miserable Bill. It is an insult to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] Again, a Government Member is trying to disconcert me and cause 1228 offence to the decent people of Northern Ireland by his remarks. Despite the interruption from the claque, I will go back to the point that I was about to make.
The student of law is taught that the law must not be brought into disrepute or made the subject of ridicule and contempt. This measure would do that. I cannot support anything which will bring the law of the realm into ridicule and contempt. Therefore, I shall certainly not support the Bill. I should like the Government and every hon. Member—sadly, most of them are elsewhere—to know that the people of Northern Ireland are not deceived by this legislation which will make no contribution to ridding Northern Ireland of the evil of terrorism.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
The Bill has been opposed by different parties for a variety of reasons. The multiplicity of antagonism lies in the origin of the Bill. It was promulgated back in October 1987 with the White Paper, not as a security measure or as anything to do with violence, but as a token to the Unionist parties to return to the council chambers which they had abandoned after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. That was the thrust and argument for the Bill. It was a panacea to allow a face-saving exercise to be undertaken to allow the Unionist parties to return to the fold. Then, in the summer of 1988, it was buried and lost for ever, never to be resurrected.
But after certain terrible and horrible atrocities in Northern Ireland, the Government decided that they should introduce some "new measures" against terrorism. They dusted off the cover of this proposal and brought it forward, not as something to entice Unionists into the council chamber again but as an anti-terrorist measure. It was a cynical exercise because the Bill will have no effect in diminishing terrorism in Northern Ireland, nor will it keep terrorism down or reduce the publicity that terrorism attracts and feeds upon. It will do the very opposite.
Let us consider what will happen in the council chamber, or before the signing of the declaration. If I may digress for a moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I say that other hon. Members have spoken exclusively about the violence of Sinn Fein. They have led the House to believe that only the Sinn Fein councillors have participated in or used violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. From most parties in Northern Ireland, although I can proudly boast that my own party is the particular exception, members sitting in the council chamber give active or tacit support to the men of violence. Even in my own council, a member of the Official Unionist party has been charged with manufacturing machine guns. Let us not assume that violence will come from only one source; it is coming from several sources simultaneously, and those sources have representation in the council chambers.
What will happen when the various parties—Sinn Fein or any other party—decide whether or not to sign the declaration? It will be done on the basis of political expedience, not because members are for or against violence. They can sign or not sign. If they decide to sign the declaration, it means that they are prepared to, and have instructions to, sign the declaration against all violence and to go into the council chamber. Their modus operandi will then be that at a time convenient to the terrorist organisation, say, a time of low publicity, or to attract attention from some atrocity that they have 1229 committed, they will commit an offence under the proposed legislation in order to create disharmony within the council chamber and the community that that council represents.
Ultimately, there will be the continuing propaganda of litigation going through the courts for as long as that may take. Money will be no object, as many hon. Members have said, for many of these paramilitary organisations. They will have continuing and total publicity. So much for strangling the so-called oxygen of publicity. The Bill will build a new pipeline, with an open-ended cylinder of oxygen, which will keep them going for ever and a day.
Let us suppose that councillors do not sign the declaration or participate in local government elections in May 1989. Then there will be a propaganda cry that they have been debarred and excluded from the democratic process and that 11 per cent. of the electorate do not have public representation. Therefore, in their warped thinking, they will justify the case that they have no alternative but to use violence. Just think of the propaganda weapon that that will provide for terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland, here, and in Europe, and especially in north America. Whatever way we look at the legislation, it will cause untold problems.
The amendment suggests that the acts should be of a criminal nature. There was much argument in Committee about whether the Attorney-General or the Director of Public Prosecutions should take action. As has been pointed out time and again, in any court cases witnesses have to provide the evidence of a particular offence. It does not matter who takes the action, because those same witnesses, be they councillors, or a corporate body of the council, or an elector within the district, must do what they must anyway. In terms of the political reality of the councils of Northern Ireland, it will be essential that the decision to take action be visited upon those who are taking it. I say that for this reason. It has been said that the Official Unionists or the Democratic Unionist party will be taking action against Sinn Fein. I have no doubt that Sinn Fein will be taking action against other parties on the same basis, because other political parties occasionally express support for violence. Sinn Fein will be delighted to use the legislation to take other parties to court.
I have no doubt from my experience of local government in Northern Ireland, which goes back over 27 years, that the majority parties will on occasion—I do not say always—use their majority to pursue minority causes. The Bill provides for money from the ratepayers to pursue such a course of action. That is what will happen.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the hypocrisy of this legislation is that there is existing public order legislation which can deal with incitement to hatred. Every offence committed under this legislation could be dealt with by the public order legislation. Therefore, this is superfluous as well as hypocritical legislation.
§ Mr. McGrady
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Several other measures, including legislation on incitement to hatred, were put on the statute book but have never been used, to my knowledge, in Northern Ireland. They were enacted to enable prosecutions of people who incite hatred. They are the breeders of violence.
1230 I feel rather sorry for the Minister tonight, because this is very bad legislation. He has an impractical Bill which will cause great disharmony, first in the council chamber and then in the community.
The irony of the situation is that this child is loved by nobody. When the Bill started its passage, it was supported totally by, as I understand it, the Unionist fraternity. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am grateful for the intervention of the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) because that was the only remaining doubt in my mind. Now every representative of Northern Ireland in this Chamber is opposed to the Bill. In other words, all the elected representatives of Northern Ireland across the political divide are opposed to the Bill. Who is legislating for whom? That is the question I leave to the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. This is a wide debate but I should like to hear a little more about new clause 2 and the accompanying amendments.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
As one who has for 16 years been a member of a local authority in Northern Ireland, and still am, and as a member of an authority where the Social Democratic and Labour party and Sinn Fein joined together to share the chairmanship and vice-chairmansip of the council, I cannot let the remarks of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) pass. I do not say that he has deliberately misled the House but he is misleading when he tries to give the impression that the Bill before the House is a sop to the Unionist population to get them back into the councils. That is not true. I remember a time when many elected representatives were making representations to the Department to have meaningful action taken against Sinn Fein representatives, the spokesmen for the murderers on the streets of Ulster.
When I hear SDLP Members say that they are against this legislation, I find it rather strange. I was on a deputation from our council when one of the SDLP members of that council asked the then Minister to take action against Sinn Fein and to bring legislation before the House that would debar Sinn Fein from the council. It is rather hypocritical for the SDLP Members to suggest—
§ Rev. William McCrea
It was not the hon. Member who received the MBE but one who is perhaps still waiting for an MBE who made the representations to the Minister.
Many SDLP council members wanted action taken to remove Sinn Fein because of a personal threat to the SDLP caused by the presence of Sinn Fein in the councils. I know from a former Minister who sat on the Front Bench on similar occasions to this that members of the SDLP, whom he knew, made strong representations to him in private to have action taken against the Sinn Fein in the councils and to put a halt to the charade that is taking place in councils in Ulster. It is, therefore, rather hypocritical when the SDLP pretend to the people of Ulster, lest the Sinn Fein might hear, when in private they were making representations to have the Sinn Feiners removed from the councils.
§ Rev. William McCrea
The hon. Member has just sat down. I am sure that he will agree that he does not want to make two speeches at one time.
1231 I must make it absolutely clear that those who care for democracy in Northern Ireland demand that action is taken to remove the representatives of gunmen from elected chambers in the Province.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Yes, I accept what the hon. Member says, and I am sorry that I missed most of his speech a few moments ago.
The House had better realise how dangerous it is for elected representatives from the Unionist community and the SDLP. They know that if they step out of line there are members of Sinn Fein sitting in the council chambers and measuring them up for a coffin if they speak openly against Sinn Fein in the council. It must not be forgotten that many of the Sinn Fein councillors come to the councils through having been activists in the IRA. So let us not pretend that these are little, genteel people who are interested only in democracy. The last thing that they are interested in is the democratic process except where they can use it to destroy it. We in Ulster have been denied democracy for many years. It is about time that local government democracy was allowed to live and that those people who make representations on behalf of the good and decent people of Ulster are allowed to do so.
It is hypocritical for the SDLP to tell the House that all parties except the SDLP have aided terrorist organisations. I find that interesting in view of the fact that in Fermanagh council the SDLP voted with Sinn Fein to put them into the chairmanship of that council. It is also strange that for the past four years, since the SDLP representatives came into our council in Magherafelt, the SDLP have voted on every occasion to put Sinn Fein into the vice-chairmanship and into every other committee post. It is also strange, considering the question of aiding and abetting terrorism, that when they were embarrassed enough to remove the mandate from the chairman in Fermanagh they went to my own constituency and put into the chairmanship of Strabane district council the Sinn Fein representative. That was done just this year: the SDLP voted Sinn Fein into the chairmanship of the Strabane district council.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am finding it difficult to relate the hon. Gentleman's remarks to new clause 2. I am sure that he will come to the new clause.
§ Rev. William McCrea
This is background information, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to what is a very important matter affecting the very lives of the elected representatives that the new clause refers to. It is easy for members of the SDLP, who joined hands with Sinn Fein in the council chambers, to laugh, but it is the Unionist members that Sinn Fein usually measure up for a coffin and shoot through the head, as they have done in councils in our province up to the present time.
In the new clause—and this has already been touched on by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder)—the onus is put on the individual person or on the individual councillor to take action against the representative and supporter of terrorism. I live in a district which has such a council.
1232 Towards the end of his speech a few moments ago, the hon. Member for South Down said that the majority of councillors would take action just to get at Republican representatives. The proposed new clause permits a council to take action, but I ask the House to consider carefully the fact that the places where there are Sinn Fein representatives, as in the west of the Province, have a majority of Republican councillors. Dog does not eat dog. There is no chance of the SDLP, which is in the majority with the Sinn Fein in the west of the Province, taking action against the Sinn Fein representatives of murderers. So the onus, with its implications of cost and everything else, is put upon some individual in the community.
Certain people on this side of the water may count the lives of Ulster people cheap and may not think that we are very valuable at all. There are even those who would prefer us not to be able to speak on behalf of our constituents in this Chamber—but I am delighted that they do not have the final say on that.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Perhaps it has come to my hon. Friend's attention that even serving soldiers from this side of the water are treated in a shameful way. Their dependants are offered the paltry sum of £1,300 when they are blown to pieces in Lisburn.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hope that when he responds to the intervention, the hon. Gentleman will direct his remarks clearly to new clause 2.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Thank you for drawing my attention to that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that the House will note carefully what my hon. Friend said. It is a sound fact. The legislation was not introduced as a sop to anyone in the Unionist community. It was resurrected because of the dastardly murder of eight soldiers in my constituency. After that we were promised that action would be taken in the councils to stop representatives of terrorism becoming spokesmen who were heard on the media. Other action was promised, including the removal of such people from councils.
The people that I represent would be delighted if meaningful legislation were introduced that went to the heart of the problem and dealt with spokespersons for terrorism, from whichever source. Such legislation would be meaningful and it would be backed by Members of the Unionist family in the House.
The Bill is watery and places elected representatives and individuals who wish to stand against the spokesmen of terrorism in more danger than ever.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
My hon. Friend will have heard during the speech made by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) an intervention from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) who said that existing legislation on incitement to hatred could be used. Will my hon. Friend confirm that such legislation would not disqualify anyone from local government but the purpose of such legislation should be—we suspect that ultimately it will not be—to remove from local government people who support violence?
§ Rev. William McCrea
I concur with my hon. Friend's remarks. The startling fact is that the legislation would not act against spokespersons for terrorism in council chambers because it would not remove them from those 1233 chambers. Elected representatives who simply wanted to be good, decent councillors would still have to suffer verbal and other abuse.
It is interesting that the legislation mentioned by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has already been used. It was used against Official Unionist members of Belfast council. It is strange that while we hope to deal with the spokespersons for terrorism—they say, without apology, that they carry the bullet in one hand and the ballot box in the other—there seems to be no desire to use that legislation against them.
§ Mr. Mallon
It seems strange that when the public order legislation came before the House, I was the only Northern Ireland Member who voted for it. While I was voting for it the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) and many of his friends were on the streets protesting against it. That legislation contained the incitement to hatred clause. The hon. Gentleman owes the House an explanation as to why he did not vote for the public order legislation.
§ Rev. William McCrea
It shows the weak and pathetic nature of the hon. Gentleman's intervention when he has to scrape the bottom of the barrel. He knows that the Official Unionist representatives, backed by the Unionist population, refrained from making their voice heard in the House because the procedures of the House were a fiasco and they were not permitted to speak for the people of Northern Ireland. The House will find it strange to hear that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh voted for something because he usually votes against legislation dealing with terrorism. Let it be put on record that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has no right to talk about action against terrorists or about those who support action proposed by the Government to deal effectively with terrorism, such as the emergency provisions legislation, and so on. Perhaps he will tell the House why he continues to vote against legislation which could be taken right into the terrorists' dens and deal effectively with them.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Is it not true that the legislation dealing with incitement to hatred was on the Northern Ireland statute book long before the legislation mentioned by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon)? Is it not true that it was used against two Protestants and was never used against Sinn Fein or any person guilty of murder or incitement to murder?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. In responding to that intervention, I remind the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) that we are talking not about other legislation but about the legislation before the House and new clause 2. I must ask him to restrict his remarks to what is in order.
§ Rev. William McCrea
You will understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I find that difficult to understand because other hon. Members have mentioned such matters and their speeches have not been stopped in mid-flow.
The intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was telling. He told us how the legislation was used and it perhaps explains why the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh was so keen to vote for it. The legislation would be used in only one way and it would not touch Sinn Fein representatives.
1234 I and the people I represent want meaningful and purposeful legislation that will deal with the threat to the shreds of democracy left in the Province. There is little democracy left because elected council representatives have little with which to deal. They concern themselves only with a few meagre jobs such as burying the dead, emptying bins and some recreational facilities. Hon. Members who take an interest in local government in Northern Ireland are shocked to find that the elected representatives on the councils in Northern Ireland have so little power. Power was taken from local authorities in Northern Ireland as a sop to the SDLP and the other Nationalists. I and my colleagues will vote against this legislation because it will not deal with the problems. If it were effective, I would be delighted to go into the Lobby with the Government. The Minister knows that I want to have such legislation on the statute book to deal with Sinn Fein and the threat that it poses to our community.
§ Mr. Mallon
I have been a councillor for the past 16 years and I have lived through some harrowing experiences in district councils involving some people who would represent violent Republicanism and others who would represent violent Unionism. Nothing that I could imagine would be strange to anybody who has served as a councillor in Northern Ireland. That is why I want to make one point.
Like other hon. Members, I believe that this legislation cannot and will not be successful but will simply be a means by which those who want to make propaganda and use legislation for their own benefit will do so, to the detriment of councillors. The unsung heroes of politics in Northern Ireland are people who serve on district councils. Many of them have served for many years. They get no credit, none of the plaudits and none of the great advantages. They are the people who will have to live with the consequences of this legislation, which is unworkable from their point of view, will be very much to their detriment and will make them—the true councillors; the people who are there to serve the community—pawns in a much wider political game.
For that reason, I believe that the Bill is grossly unfair and completely unworkable. I do not believe that we shall be able to say within the lifetime of the next councils that this legislation has fulfilled the purpose the Government believe that it will fulfil. I think that it will be utterly counterproductive.
If people read the existing public order legislation very carefully they will see that the amended incitement-to-hatred provision is sufficient to deal with the type of problem that we are considering. Under this Bill, unless it can be shown that a person has in some way supported violence or an act of violence, he cannot be taken to court. The public order legislation has a sufficiently wide section on incitement to hatred to allow action to be taken that would not have detrimental effects on councillors, council business or the entire community.
I found it very difficult to understand—and I thank the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) for giving way on this—the position adopted by some hon. Members from Northern Ireland when that previous piece of legislation, which I believe was most valuable in allowing people to live their lives without the threats and pressures that we all experience, was going through the 1235 House. They were on the streets protesting against that legislation. Indeed, I may be wrong but I believe that some of them went to gaol in opposition to it. It is very difficult to accept the rationale of people who will go out on the streets, causing problems for police and security forces, and go to gaol in opposition to an Act that was passed when they were seeking this legislation, which they now find is not strong enough. That is the terrible anomaly that we face and I wish that hon. Members would read the public order legislation, particularly the section on incitment to hatred, because it could be very valuable indeed.
This is not the first time that elected members from the Unionist community have boycotted councils. I learned a very hard lesson—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is now straying. I am sure that he will come back to the new clause.
§ Mr. Mallon
I will indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because part of the new clause relates to summary conviction, a fine or imprisonment. I was one of the people who sought to have that implemented so that the business of district councils could continue. When I took legal action, not just through the lower courts but in the High Court, I had absolutely no support from the Northern Ireland Office; it did not want to know. It was a very costly episode for me; it cost an awful lot of money. So much so that I believe the precedent is there and people are not going to take that course even if they have good grounds, and I do not believe the grounds are there.
§ Mr. Mallon
This was many years before the Alliance party even got elected to some of the councils. That is a matter of historical record.
I take your direction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I make the point that I do not believe that the Government are at all serious on this. Had they been, they would have taken action many years ago to ensure that councils operated properly. They are doing what they are doing with every other piece of Northern Ireland legislation that has been rushed through. It is an exercise in machoism and window dressing. It is for the optics and will do absolutely no good in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
Like so many other hon. Members, I start by stating the vested interest of being a local government councillor. I have served on a local authority since 1977 and can honestly say that the purpose and intention of the overwhelming majority of people who give of their time and energy, for very little thanks, by involving themselves in local government are to better the lot of the people who live in the local community. The vast majority of them are not there to further some greater and wider political cause; they are there to deal with the small issues of bins, recreation, community centres and so on. That is the full extent of the authority and power they have in local government.
Therefore, we are not talking about issues that affect the overwhelming majority of local government councillors, because they are not directly affected by the legislation. But they are directly affected by those whom this legislation was initially stated to be aimed at—those 1236 who might come into local government to make it more difficult for people to work for the advantage and benefit of their local communities.
The specific matter to which we are asked to address ourselves—and I can see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are surprised that somebody is actually going to refer to the new clause—is whether the matter should be one with a criminal content or something dealt with by individuals through a civil process. The purpose of the legislation, as stated by the Government, was to remove from district councils people who gave public support to terrorism. One would have thought that if that was the real intent of the Government they would have been prepared to put their full muscle, authority and finance behind it to ensure the result that the legislation was intended to give.
I do not believe that the stated intent of the Government was ever their real intent. It is more than likely that the Government were attempting to put up a smokescreen, to give the impression of activity when there was no indication from within the Northern Ireland Office that the action provided for in the Bill could work.
It cannot work in its present form, and the Minister knows that it will not work. Therefore, it will lie on the statute book to be the source of some considerable discontent, to be used and abused in local government for one group to get at another, knowing that there will be no conclusive outcome. And no doubt there will be considerable expenditure within local government and from personal finances in the quest for what effectively will be a public show. It will be for the publicity of Sinn Fein in taking Unionist councillors to court if they should call for the annihilation of the IRA. All that is likely to happen over the next few years.
The real intention of the Government was to give the impression rather than the reality of activity. They were not prepared to give the Director of Public Prosecutions the power to take the necessary action when utterances contravening the legislation were made. That would have been the natural consequence that would have flowed from a genuine attempt by the Government to deal with this problem.
The Government decided to avoid it and had to pass the buck to somebody else. They tell us that Joe Citizen will be entitled to take to court someone who has publicly advocated violence and have him disqualified. I do not think that the Minister could be unaware of the consequences to a person who took that kind of action. There is a high likelihood that someone who publicly advocates violence and terrorism would be displeased at such action by a citizen, and would show that displeasure by the method that he has publicly advocated.
The Minister must be aware that there are unlikely to be any takers for pursuing action against those in local government who advocate violence. Knowing that fact, the Minister put in a catch-all that the council can take the action against an individual, but he knows that the vast majority of councils will not do so. We will probably find that an angry Loyalist will be in a predominantly Unionist council while an angry Sinn Fein member will be in a predominantly Nationalist council. We will probably find that no action will be taken by any council against any of its members who make public comments. It may happen in perhaps only two or three councils. I can think of a Sinn Fein member in Belfast council making a comment and, as that is a Unionist council, action could flow from that. Lisburn council is another such council, although Sinn 1237 Fein members never seem to speak in it. There are few councils that would take such action and we are left either with Joe Citizen or a councillor taking action.
The Minister is dodging his responsibility in the most cavalier and dangerous manner by suggesting that people other than the Director of Public Prosecutions should take such action. They do not have the security that surrounds the director in his bullet-proof car with its security driver and police backing. They do not have at their homes the security devices that the director has to safeguard him and his family from those who would undoubtedly attempt to attack him for such action. To ask ordinary people to put their lives on the line is quite outrageous and in attempting to pass it off in the way that he has the Minister has shirked his responsibility.
The legislation will not work. The House must change the Bill so that it can do the job that the Government say they want to do. If they want to make the legislation work they will have to include the new clause; without it the Bill will not work.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Perhaps I could give my hon. Friend an illustration of the danger to elected representatives. A former Northern Ireland Member, the late Robert Bradford, was elected in Belfast, South and paid for his stand in politics with his life. Mr. Edgar Graham, a noted and learned young man, paid for active service in politics with his life. A former deputy mayor of Craigavon, Mr. Calvert, took a stand and was fortunate to escape alive. There is a plaque in the House that reminds hon. Members when they walk through the door of another gallant and hon. Member who sacrificed his life, the late Mr. Airey Neave.
§ Mr. Robinson
My hon. Friend draws attention to the price that elected representatives in Northern Ireland have to pay. Many of them have paid that price, and not just those that my hon. Friend has mentioned. I can think of Councillor Armstrong from Armagh and of SDLP councillors in Belfast and in other parts of the Province who have been killed. It is not easy to be an elected representative in Northern Ireland. It is a dangerous job and no matter which party one represents, one's life is on the line. The Minister wants to make elected representatives even more of a target and that is the real danger of the legislation.
§ Mr. Needham
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place when I made my speech on the new clause. If he was not, I suggest that he reads Hansard to see what I said. If he refers to paragraph 16 of the discussion paper "Elected Representatives and the Democratic Process in Northern Ireland" he will see at no stage did the Government say that they would take powers. We invited views about the best way to deal with this problem, and we have brought forward proposals that are likely to be more effective than the proposals that the hon. Gentleman is putting forward. If he had been here to listen to my speech, he would have learned why our proposals are likely to be more effective.
§ Mr. Robinson
Since being elected to the House 10 years ago I have missed very few of the great parliamentary occasions, but I must confess to having missed the Minister's contribution. I should have been interested to hear him and watch him wriggle. The Government went 1238 through a consultative process and asked the community as a whole to give its views on how this matter should be dealt with. The overwhelming majority of the people asked for it to be dealt with in the way that I have described, but the Minister chose another way.
§ Mr. William Ross
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) will have noticed that in his intervention the Minister mentioned paragraph 16 of the discussion paper. If the Minister had cared to do so he could also have referred to paragraph 15 which says:Enforcement of a declaration could either be through the criminal or the civil courts.If it is to be a criminal procedure, the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General would have to be used.
§ Mr. Robinson
There is no doubt about that, but I did not think that anybody was taking seriously what the Minister said and did not think that it was worthy of any further comment.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) attempted to give the impression that Unionist Members were asking for a tightening up of security through action taken against Sinn Fein. He said that we had had an excellent opportunity under the public order legislation, but that we had voted the wrong way. The hon. Gentleman well knows that Unionists voted against that and went to gaol because the public order legislation was on the parades issue. I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will not allow me to go too far down that road, but it was because Northern Ireland was being treated differently in the public order legislation from the rest of the United Kingdom that we voted against the order. Again I tell the House that if it wants legislation that will work it must give its full support to the new clause.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe
I feel rather like the young boy who overturned a beehive. We have had a good debate. I cannot say that many hon. Members stuck to the new clause and the amendments but I shall certainly not deviate from them.
I was surprised at the Minister deviating down the road of repudiating and disavowing. We had quite a debate on that in Committee and that had nothing to do with the amendments either. I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) has just left the Chamber. If he were here I would remind him that long before 1985 I led a deputation of councillors to protest to the Minister about this matter. I am sure that the Minister remembers.
The Minister also surprised me when he said that trying to go down the road of criminal investigation into declarations would make things harder. It should not be difficult to prove that a law has been broken and everyone should have the right to prove whether he has broken it. The right to fight against those who feel that the law has been broken should be properly tested. Those hon. Members who favour the amendments feel that the supporters of terrorism should be treated in the same way as those who actually carry out terrorist acts. If terrorists are to be brought to account under the criminal law, their supporters should be also. We shall be pressing the clause to a Division.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 10, Noes 176.1240
|Div No.53]||[7.50 pm|
|Beggs, Roy||Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)|
|Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Kilfedder, James||Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Maginnis, Ken||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Mr. William Ross and|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Rev. William McCrea.|
|Alexander, Richard||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Amess, David||Gill, Christopher|
|Amos, Alan||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Arbuthnot, James||Gordon, Mildred|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Gower, Sir Raymond|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Ashby, David||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Gregory, Conal|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)|
|Atkins, Robert||Ground, Patrick|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Hardy, Peter|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Harris, David|
|Batiste, Spencer||Haynes, Frank|
|Bendall, Vivian||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Hill, James|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Holt, Richard|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Howarth, Alan (Strafd-on-A)|
|Bowis, John||Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Hughes, John (Coventry NE)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Bright, Graham||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Irvine, Michael|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Jack, Michael|
|Buckley, George J.||Janman, Tim|
|Burl, Alistair||Janner, Greville|
|Butler, Chris||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Butterfill, John||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Knapman, Roger|
|Carrington, Matthew||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Knowles, Michael|
|Cartwright, John||Lang, Ian|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Chapman, Sydney||Lightbown, David|
|Chope, Christopher||Livsey, Richard|
|Conway, Derek||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Lord, Michael|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Lyell, Sir Nicholas|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||McGrady, Eddie|
|Corbett, Robin||MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Cran, James||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cryer, Bob||Mallon, Seamus|
|Cummings, John||Mans, Keith|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Day, Stephen||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Devlin, Tim||Michael, Alun|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Dover, Den||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Durant, Tony||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Dykes, Hugh||Mullin, Chris|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Needham, Richard|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Norris, Steve|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Pike, Peter L.|
|Flannery, Martin||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Prescott, John|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Raffan, Keith|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Riddick, Graham|
|Franks, Cecil||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Gale, Roger||Rooker, Jeff|
|Rowe, Andrew||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Sackville, Hon Tom||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Thorne, Neil|
|Shaw, David (Dover)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Tracey, Richard|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Sims, Roger||Viggers, Peter|
|Skeet, Sir Trevor||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Skinner, Dennis||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Wall, Pat|
|Speed, Keith||Wallace, James|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Stern, Michael||Watts, John|
|Stevens, Lewis||Wells, Bowen|
|Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)||Wheeler, John|
|Stradling Thomas, Sir John||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Summerson, Hugo||Wood, Timothy|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Yeo, Tim|
|Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Mr. David Maclean and|
|Mr. Michael Fallon.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. William Ross
I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 1, line 14, leave out from 'is' to end of line 15 and insert 'a Commonwealth citizen'.
It is evident from a reading of the Bill that the amendment could gain the same result if rather different words were used. Those, however, are the words that we have chosen, and I am sure that they will meet the case in allowing yet another debate in the House on the voting rights of foreigners in the United Kingdom.
The Irish Republic enjoys a unique position in the United Kingdom. In raising the question of entitlement to vote in any United Kingdom election, I believe that we are doing the House and the country a favour, as although the matter is examined periodically, it is not examined in any great depth. Sadly, as is so often the case, there are relatively few hon. Members present, but no doubt the time will come when more will turn out to argue the pros and cons of such entitlement and to highlight the dangers posed to any country that allows foreigners to take part in its electoral process.
In my view, people are assumed to have a duty to the national territory in which they were born. Those who have subsequently worked against the interests of that nation, or are judged to have done so—especially in time of war—have always been branded traitors. Peacetime spies have been similarly pilloried. When certain individuals said recently that they had been part and parcel of the machinery that had sprung a Russian spy from prison in this country, there was an immediate and terrifying outcry in the press calling for their prosecution. I do not know how far the proceedings have gone, but no doubt action of some kind will be initiated if it proves possible.
I understand that those who try to diminish the sovereign's realm, territory or power in the United Kingdom are guilty of treason. In the United States only United States citizens are entitled to vote, and the class of citizenship is given to immigrants only after they have demonstrated a belief in the institutions of the United States and an allegiance to that country. They must forswear their allegiance to the nation in which they were born.
1241 I appreciate that a number of people both inside and outside the House do not believe that that is right. They believe that anyone who comes to live in this country should be given the right to vote as soon as he has crossed the border. I do not adhere to that view, however. I tend to agree with the United States that those who wish to be given the precious right to vote in a state should declare their allegiance to that state. Whether they are coming into the United Kingdom or going to the United States, Australia, Germany or anywhere else is immaterial.
As I have said, the Irish Republic enjoys a special position in that its citizens can vote in this country. It enjoys such a position also in that, despite the best efforts of the Government, it has not been persuaded to extradite those whom the police in Northern Ireland and Great Britain would like to question and to charge with serious offences. It is different, of course, if their offences have no terrorist manifestation. If terrorism is involved, it is almost impossible to lay hands on them; in other circumstances they are chucked over the border so fast that their feet do not touch the ground. There never seems to be anything wrong with the extradition warrant for the chap who has committed a burglary or thumped some poor soul over the head, but if he has murdered someone, acting on behalf of the IRA, all sorts of things go wrong when the warrant is being prepared.
I appreciate that some hon. Members will say that people from the Republic work in this country and pay taxes here: that they have taken part in the life of the community, perhaps for many years, speak the same language and share a common cultural experience with those among whom they live. I am not sure that all those born in Ireland would go along with that. Many of them think that they should speak a different language and that they have a different cultural background, and hold that there are reciprocal agreements with the Republic on voting rights. That, however, is not the point at issue. What is at issue is whether those who leave the Republic and come to what they see as greener pastures have any personal allegiance to this country and its welfare.
There is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that such people have in no way changed their allegiance—that they still believe in looking after the interests of the Irish Republic, and carry that interest into the polling booth in the United Kingdom. As I have said, I believe that if they are to vote here they should demonstrate their allegiance by taking on the nationality and responsibilities of British subjects and British citizens, as well as benefiting from the privileges that they clearly see in this country, or they would not come here. I think that if we consulted the British public we should find that view widely shared, and we have often heard it expressed in private by many Conservative Members. It is a pity that they do not tell the Government that they have got it all wrong—that all foreigners are the same and should be treated in the same way in the electoral process.
What of the voting rights granted to United Kingdom citizens in the Irish Republic? That is a matter for the Irish Republic. I personally believe—for reasons that I have already given in relation to the United Kingdom—that the Republic was wrong to give United Kingdom citizens voting rights.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
Is it not a fact that that concession was given to British residents in the Republic of Ireland because of the mounting reaction here about votes for Irish citizens in British elections?
§ Mr. Ross
Of course. That was one of the few cases when pressure from the British public had an effect on legislation in Dublin.
Citizens of this country who reside in the Irish Republic can cast a vote there. However, we should consider one or two factors which this amendment raises. Within this group of British islands, England has been the destination of a vast amount of immigration from elsewhere in the island group. The people of England have increased in number not for generations, but for centuries, not only through a natural increase, but as a result of a tremendous amount of immigration from Scotland, large parts of which were depopulated, from Wales and from Ireland.
People came to England for the economic benefits and they are still coming. The result of the immigration to England from the rest of the British Isles has been to preserve a sense of Scottishness in Scotland, Welshness in Wales, and Irishness in Ireland which could not have continued if there had been emigration to those areas from England. The people who went to those countries from England always represented a small proportion of the total population and they became absorbed into the general society. However, as people left Scotland, Wales and Ireland, the Scottishness, Welshness and Irishness of the folk who remained behind was intensified and not diluted by the impact of the wider world in the British Isles as a whole.
The Irish Republic is still exporting many people to Great Britain and, to a much lesser extent, to Northern Ireland. Those people have an electoral influence on some hon. Members in this House. That is inevitable because they have the vote and they must be catered for. Hon. Members must look for their votes and sell cases to them.
Suppose for a moment that the immigration course was reversed. Suppose that the 40 million or 50 million people living in Great Britain, specifically those in England, had a change of economic circumstance. I believe that there are certain straws in the wind which show that there might be changes in circumstances, not least with regard to 1992 and all that, and the change of relationships within the EEC. The Republic of Ireland might one day be a convenient and pleasant place for people from England to live.
Let us suppose that 2 million people, a tiny proportion of this wealthy and highly densely populated country of England, decided to emigrate to the Irish Republic. In fact, 3 million could easily go to the Republic without markedly changing the total population of England. Suppose those 2 million or 3 million people began to exert their opinions and wills by voting for the political parties in the Irish Republic. How long would the concession given to the United Kingdom electors in the Irish Republic last? The Irish Republic places a very high premium on its Irishness—its ethos and its cultural and national identity. It would believe that that was threatened.
I visited Wales for two days last summer. It is a very pleasant part of the United Kingdom. However, like every hon. Member in this place, I read the papers. I have read of cottages being burnt in Wales. That is a foolish activity, 1243 but the underlying reason for that activity—and this was revealed clearly in a television programme that I saw some months ago—is that the Welsh people see the Welshness of their community being overwhelmed by immigration from England. Exactly the same threat would apply if there was so much English emigration to the Irish Republic.
Two people from England recently moved within 10 miles of me in my constituency. They owned houses in the south-east of England, close to London, which had acquired phenomenal values. They sold those houses last year, moved over and bought equally good dwellings in my constituency and they have a large sum of money left over to invest. I am talking about people in their late 50s who have retired. One had a family tie as he had a daughter-in-law in that part of the world. However, the other had no family ties.
If the Irish Republic wants to maintain its cultural and national identity, it would be wise to withdraw the concession to English voters. I believe that we have never adequately considered why we should restrict, like nearly every other nation, the voting rights in our elections to people who have an allegiance to the country in which they live and who have proved by their actions and attitudes over the years by taking out citizenship that they possess that allegiance. That is why this short and simple amendment is before the House. We should reconsider our views about this issue.
I have some qualms about saying that Commonwealth citizens who have allegiance to the Commonwealth, to the Queen as head of state and to the Britishness of their own environment should be allowed to vote in Northern Ireland. I believe that it is far better that citizens with an allegiance to a particular country should have the right to vote in elections in that country.
This is a serious matter, but I do not expect the Government to accept the amendments. I raise the issue so that the House can have another opportunity to consider it in the light of my remarks. If my words are read in the Irish Republic, and no doubt some people there will read what has been said here this evening, I hope people there will see the real danger for the Irish nation should circumstances develop there as they have developed in Wales and Scotland where there is large scale emigration from England.
§ Mr. Needham
One of the main purposes of the Bill is to bring the franchise for local government elections in Northern Ireland into line with the parliamentary franchise here. The amendment takes us in exactly the opposite direction. It would prevent citizens of the Republic of Ireland, who are not Commonwealth citizens, from voting at district council elections in Northern Ireland.
The amendment does nothing to address the problem of Irish citizens voting in United Kingdom elections. I am sure that the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) accepts that that would produce a wholly anomalous position. Such people may live in Northern Ireland at the moment without any restriction. They can vote at parliamentary elections, European parliamentary elections and assembly elections in Northern Ireland. Where on earth is the logic in saying that citizens of the Irish Republic should be precluded from voting in district council elections only in Northern Ireland?
1244 That would mean that an Irish citizen could vote in Bath, but not in Belfast. They can vote in Chippenham but they could not vote in Carrickfergus. They can vote in Great Britain but they could not vote in one part of the island of Ireland.
The proposal would be regarded as discriminatory and vindictive. It would deprive Irish citizens who currently are able to vote, in particular circumstances different from anywhere else in the country. Even Stormont, when it passed the Electoral Law Act in 1962, baulked at that. I can see absolutely no case for the amendment and I ask the House to reject it.
§ Mr. McGrady
I was struck by the new-found concern of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) for the culture and traditions of the Republic of Ireland. In his speech, he wandered around the British islands. He referred to the cultures of Wales, Scotland, England and the Republic of Ireland. Strangely enough, he did not refer to Northern Ireland. I hope that he did not mean by that that we do not have an unique culture in Northern Ireland. That portrayed to me, and perhaps to the House, a sense of lack of identity from which my parliamentary colleagues representing Northern Ireland sometimes suffer. Perhaps that is the real background to the amendment.
We should be looking forward to 1992, but the hon. Member for Londonderry, East has taken us back to 1962 when the Electoral Law Act was passed by the then Unionist regime in Belfast for political reasons, to prevent citizens of the Republic of Ireland from voting in local government elections. Today, there are people in Northern Ireland who moved there when they were very young, and who have brought up their families and have children and grandchildren but who have never been able to vote in local government elections. Like other residents, they have paid their rates, so in the past 30 years there has been taxation without representation in Northern Ireland.
Underlying what might be described as the honeyed words of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East was a degree almost of racism and sectarianism. I found that very sad because I thought that we were slowly moving away from such attitudes, and that we were trying to bring together the communities in Northern Ireland. The people whom he wishes to disenfranchise are, whether he likes it or not, part of the people of Northern Ireland, who perhaps 30 years ago came to live among us, are married and have brought up their children in Northern Ireland. The amendment is almost racist and sectarian. It is certainly a political attack on a measure to grant universal franchise to the people of Northern Ireland. Ironically, it contradicts the expression used by the Leader of the Official Unionist party, who frequently uses the phrase "the totality of relationships within these islands". I feel that the amendment is trying to put up the electoral wall running from Derry to Newry, which I consider is a retrograde and small-minded step backwards.
The amendment also belies what I hoped to be some sign that the Unionist parties were prepared to stretch out their hands a wee bit more than they have in the past, as I hoped that I and my party would be able to do to heal and cement divisions. The amendment is a retrenchment back to 1962. When the veneer of macro-economics is stripped away, it is clear that the hon. Member for Londonderry, East is really saying, "Don't let those people vote because they are not likely to vote Unionist", despite 1245 the fact that the franchise would be extended to many people who are not inclined towards Nationalism. I understand that the spouses of British forces stationed in Northern Ireland would be enfranchised for the first time under the Bill, but not under the amendment which would disenfranchise them. Sadly, in the honeyed words of the hon. Gentleman I detect the old entrenched position of giving not an inch and I hope that the House will see the amendment for what it is—just another political sectarian gimmick that is 30 years old.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I shall not delay the House for long because I agree almost entirely with what the Minister said about the amendment. The Opposition tabled a reasoned amendment to the Bill on Second Reading because we appreciated the value of clauses 1 and 2. The Government were very clever to include those clauses in the Bill because they had us on Morton's fork; if we voted against the Bill, we were voting against giving the vote to the citizens of the Republic of Ireland, but if we let it through we would be seen as agreeing with the rest of the contents of the Bill. However, we refused to fall into that trap.
I wish to raise two points of considerable importance. First, the amendment goes against the trend of what is happening in western Europe. There is a breaking down of boundaries between nations and an understanding and sharing of burdens across national borders, across the Irish sea and across the English channel. There is an understanding that we are part and parcel of a greater community. The amendment goes against that trend.
Secondly, at a time when we are seeking to heal people within a community, if one were to accept the logic of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) for the sake of argument, one could concede his position about votes for national Governments but surely that does not apply to local government. We are seeking to knit people together in a local community and to make them part of the community in which they live and for which they pay their local rates and local taxes, and to get them to accept responsibility for their immediate environment and their relationships with their fellow citizens. For that reason we believe that it would be regrettable if the amendment were accepted.
Finally, perhaps the hon. Member for Londonderry, East has forgotten that citizens of the Republic of Ireland serve in our security forces in Northern Ireland. Are they to he denied the vote?
§ Mr William Ross
There are also Gurkhas serving in our security services as part of the Army of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) spoke about breaking down boundaries and national identities. I wonder whether he has thought about where that might lead in the case of the Irish Republic and Irish nationalism in general, and the logical conclusion of his argument.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) spoke about people who are not British citizens voting in British elections. Such people cannot get British passports at present, but they could easily become British citizens if they wished to do so. The fact that they do not wish to do so only adds to the strength of my argument that folk need to show an allegiance to the state in which they wish to vote.
1246 I confess that I did not mention Northern Ireland, but I referred to all of Ireland as an area from which there has been emigration to this island. That has not been on such a large scale in some parts of the north-east of Northern Ireland because people could go to the Belfast basin where there was a large industrial city and greater employment opportunities than existed in most of the Irish Republic.
I believe that the fact that we have been losing people from Northern Ireland has helped us to maintain our Ulster identity. Earlier in the debate I detected the willingness of the hon. Member for South Down to be considered as an Ulsterman rather than an Irishman. I almost always welcome such a change in attitude, even from the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, North and South Down tied the local government franchise to rates and local taxes. I thought that the House had buried that idea a long time ago. It was one of the principal reasons for the civil rights movement and one man, one vote. The hon. Gentlemen said that they regarded the qualification as desirable for local government elections.
The Minister drew attention to the similarities in voting rights but neglected to mention what was said in Committee, which he defended—that one must still be resident in Northern Ireland for three months before one can vote in local government elections. He said that there was a fear of people crossing the border from the Irish Republic to vote in Unionist-vulnerable wards, thus tipping the balance. By his defence of that difference, which is maintained by the Bill, he proved the validity of my case.
As the amendment has no chance of being made, and because I believe that the House will return to the matter in a national context, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.